Family, friends, connections — these all fill important roles in our lives. We are created as social beings. We are made to be in relationships.
Of course, there are big differences between people; some simply must be in many relationships to survive while others can get along fine with only one or two. However, loneliness and a lack of significant relationships with people can have detrimental effects, not only on our mental well-being but also on our physical health.
Vivek H. Murthy, United States Surgeon General from 2014-2017, in a Harvard Business Review article (“Work and the Loneliness Epidemic”), states that loneliness can have very detrimental effects. It is similar to smoking 15 cigarettes per day. It is associated with a greater risk for cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression and anxiety. It reduces work performance, limits creativity and impairs reasoning and decision making. All this from loneliness!
People are much more mobile than they were years ago. Then it was likely that after schooling was completed young people would get married and settle down near their parents and other family members. Now graduates are apt to get a job quite a ways from home. They are separated from family and friends. Working in an office with lots of co-workers isn’t an automatic cure. Staring at a computer all day in one’s own work cubicle, attending task-oriented meetings and always feeling pressure to get more work done don’t facilitate overcoming loneliness. Escaping into a world of Netflix, constantly having earbuds in to listen to music and communicating through texting or other electronic means (and not face-to-face) don’t help either. People can be very lonely even in crowds.
Meaningful relationships where we get to know each other, where the emphasis is not on what we can do but on who we are and where we can simply be ourselves are precious. As we head into summer I urge you to foster those relationships. Take time to unplug, unwind and to talk with others. Reach out to help others and be ready to accept help from them as well. Invite someone to enjoy an ice cream cone together on the dike or go out for a cup of coffee. Take the initiative to learn more about what is going on in the lives of your co-workers. Talk to your neighbors. Share concerns you have with a trusted friend.
God created us to be in relationships. We can do a lot to help each other through the difficulties of life, and sharing our joys is also a way to be built up. Work in the relationships you already have to deepen them and venture out to build new ones. We are not alone. For those who are Christians there is the additional promise of God’s presence with us always. Jesus told His followers, ”Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Thank God for the relationship we can have with Him through Christ and for the relationships we have with others.
Bob Hoffman is pastor of Community Reformed Church, 747 N. 12th St., Clinton.